History of the Democratic Party


The Democratic Party is the oldest voter-based political party in the world and the oldest existing political party in the United States. The party's modern institutions were formed in the 1830s and 1840s.

Known as the party of the "common man," the early Democratic Party stood for individual rights and state sovereignty, but opposed banks and high tariffs. During the Second Party System (from 1832 to the mid-1850s) under Presidents Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren and James K. Polk, the Democrats usually bested the opposition Party by narrow margins.

From 1860 to 1932 in the era of the American Civil War to the Great Depression, the opposing Republican Party, organized in the mid-1850s from the ruins of the Whig Party and some other smaller splinter groups, was dominant in presidential politics. The Democrats elected only two Presidents during this period: Grover Cleveland (in 1884 and 1892) and Woodrow Wilson (in 1912 and 1916). Over the same period, the Democrats proved more competitive with the Republicans in Congressional politics, enjoying House of Representatives majorities (as in the 65th Congress) in 15 of the 36 Congresses elected, although only in five of these did they form the majority in the Senate. Furthermore, the Democratic Party was split between the Bourbon Democrats, representing Eastern business interests; and the agrarian elements comprising poor farmers in the South and West. The agrarian element, marching behind the slogan of free silver (i.e. in favor of inflation), captured the party in 1896 and nominated William Jennings Bryan in the 1896, 1900 and 1908 presidential elections, although he lost every time. Both Bryan and Wilson were leaders of the progressive movement in the United States (1890s–1920s) and opposed imperialistic expansion abroad while sponsoring liberal reforms at home.

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Starting with 32nd President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the party dominated during the Fifth Party System, which lasted from 1932 until about 1970s. In response to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, the party employed liberal policies and programs with the New Deal coalition to combat financial crises and emergency bank closings, with policies continuing into World War II. The Party kept the White House after Roosevelt's death in April 1945, reelecting former Vice President Harry S. Truman in 1948. During this period, the Republican Party only successfully elected one president (Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956) and was the minority in Congress all but twice (the exceptions being 1946 and 1952). Powerful committee chairmanships were awarded automatically on the basis of seniority, which gave power especially to long-serving Southerners. Important Democratic leaders during this time included Presidents John F. Kennedy (1961–1963) and Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969). Republican Richard Nixon won the White House in 1968 and 1972, leading to the end of the New Deal era.

Democrats have won six out of the last twelve presidential elections, winning in the presidential elections of 1976 (with 39th President Jimmy Carter, (1977–1981), 1992> and (with 42nd President Bill Clinton, 1993–2001), 2008 and (with 44th President Barack Obama, 2009–2017), and 2020 (with 46th President Joe Biden, 2021–present). Democrats have also won the popular vote in and 2016, but lost the Electoral College in both elections (with candidates Al Gore and illary Clinton, respectively). These were two of the four presidential elections in which Democrats won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College, the others being the presidential elections in 1876 and 1888.



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